Panther Crosses the Sky

Chapter Four

 

Daniel Boone tossed his cold coffee into the trees and wiped the tin cup out with some grass.  Then he placed it in his pack and refastened the flap.  He stood and ran his hand over his forehead, slicking his hair back, and then donned his cap.

Slinging Ticklicker over his shoulder he started down the hill, whistling a jaunty tune.

It was good to be headed home.  He was looking forward to his wife’s cooking, to her smile and the feel of her warm, soft body when she rushed into his arms and gave him a  hug.  Just to the sight and scent of her.  He had been away only a few days, but for some reason, he was aching for Becky and for their home.

As he walked, the tune he whistled darkened and fell away to nothing.  The wife and family he loved might be in desperate danger.  Or so the major-general from the Continental Army he had met with had told him.  With the real beginning of the Rebellion, the British had ceased being  just interested observers in the Kentucky territory and had begun urging the Indians to attack the settlements.  In other parts of the growing union of territories and states, they had already managed to create an alliance between the war factions of the Shawnee and the Chickamauga-Cherokee.  Just a short time before, in July, the Chickamauga had attacked two frontier forts in the Carolinas which had provoked an American retaliation against all of the Cherokee - including Mingo’s people, who were innocent of any wrong doing.

Things were not only heating up in the east, but here, in the west as well.  Dan was beginning to wonder how safe it had been to bring his family here.  How safe it was to keep them here.

And he was worried about Mingo.  He and the Cherokee had only been friends a short time, near a year or so, but Mingo’s heritage put him smack in the middle of all the troubles, at home with no one and at war with everyone.  Even though Mingo was a peaceful man.

Unless roused.

But if it came to a fight between the settlers and the Cherokee, who would Mingo side with?  They had faced the same question before when the Cherokee had come to take Tekawitha MacLeod back, but had managed to avoid answering it.

This time he was not so sure they would be as lucky.

The major-general had told him that there was a contingent of British soldiers in the area intent on stirring up trouble between the Indians and the settlers.  A group of Shawnee and Chickamauga had come to persuade the Ohio and Kentucky tribes to join with them.  They were courting both Menewa and Blackfish, the chiefs of the Cherokee and Shawnee.  So far Dan knew Menewa was holding out.  But all it would take was one spark to set the whole powder keg off.  One small incident.

One misunderstanding or misjudgment.

Dan shifted his rifle to his other shoulder and turned away from the fort toward his home.  He’d go to the cabin, hug Becky, kiss his sleeping children, and then set out for Chota tonight.  There was no time to waste.  He needed to speak to Menewa, and then he would head to the Shawnee village, to old Blackfish.  The chief was like a father to him – had been ever since the Shawnee had kidnapped him and Blackfish had made him his son.  He’d make the old man listen to reason.  If Blackfish turned away the British and told his people to remain at peace with the settlers, then it would happen.

It had to happen.

Otherwise Boonesborough would be setting on top of that keg when it blew.

 

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Dan had just turned the corner and cleared the trees at the end of the path that led to his house when he heard someone call his name.  Instantly, he knew something was wrong.  It was well past midnight, but the cabin was ablaze with light and the front door was open.   Dan broke into a run when he saw his wife stumbling toward him, waving her arms.

“Becky?  What is it?” he called.

She fell into his arms, breathless.  “Israel….”

Dan looked behind to see Jemima standing on the porch, hugging her shawl about her shoulders.  “Becky, what?”

“Oh Dan, it’s a long story.”  She struck tears away and shoved the hair out of her eyes.  “Israel’s gone.”

“Gone?”  Fear clutched his insides even as his wife realized what she had said.

“No, Dan.  He’s fine.  I mean, well, not fine, but— ”

Dan took his wife by the shoulders.  “He’s alive.  And not hurt?”

She nodded.

“Missin’, then, you mean?”

Becky slipped her arm around his waist as they started toward the house.  “Yes.”

“Well, that’s nothin’ new,” he laughed, relieved.

“No, Dan, you don’t understand….”

Jemima greeted him as they stepped onto the porch.  “Pa.  We’re sure glad you’re home.”

Dan kissed his daughter on the forehead and then drew them both inside.  Once he had them sitting on the bench by the fire, he sat across from them and said, “Now tell me what’s goin’ on.”

 

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Five minutes later Dan sat with his chin in his fingers, thinking.

“Dan?”

“Pa?”

Dan pursed his lips.  “Scrawny little feller, this Shawnee boy?”

Becky shrugged.  “Slender.  Lean but muscled.”

“Spoke English, did he?”

“Some.  Dan, what is this?”

“Did he hold himself different?  Like he was somebody?”

Becky seemed exasperated.  “I don’t know, Dan.  All I know is that when we turned in he was on the cot in the spare room and Israel was in his bed.  Now they are both gone!”

“Calm down, Becky.  I think the boy is all right.”

Which boy?” she demanded.

“Now hold on, Becky.  Listen to me.  You remember when I was with Blackfish?”

His wife shivered and held herself close.  “How could I forget?  I was ready to pack up the children and go back east.  I thought you were dead.”

“I know, darlin’.”  He reached out and caught her hand.  “When I was there, in Blackfish’s lodge, I met a little feller whose Pa had just been killed in the battle of Point Pleasant.  The fight the Wyandot called ‘Kanawha’.  Blackfish had taken him in as the boy’s eldest brother was a warrior, and not able to care for him since he was away fightin’.  He was a spunky little feller.  All fired up about being a warrior, even though he was maybe seven at most.”

“This boy is about nine.”

Dan nodded.  “That’d be about right.  The boy was somethin’ special, or so they said.  He was born the night a comet passed through the sky.  The one the Shawnee call ‘the panther.”

“He wore a panther-claw totem around his neck, Pa,” Jemima said.  “Mingo has it.”

Dan frowned.  “Where is Mingo now?”

Becky threw her hands up.  “Heading for the Shawnee village to tell them this boy is alive.”

Dan rose to his feet.  “Is he crazy?  The Shawnee’ll kill him on sight.”

Becky nodded.  “So he said.  But he went anyway.  He said the same thing – that this boy is something special.  Dan, who is he?”

“If I reckon it right, Becky, he’s the son of a mighty warrior and chief.  Marked by the Shawnee’s belief as someone destined for great things.  Goes by the name, ‘Panther flies across the Sky’.”

Jemima was frowning, trying to remember the Shawnee words he had taught her.  “Across….kam.  Fly or go….tha.  What’s the Shawnee word for ‘panther’, Pa?”

“Meshepeshe.  That’s his sept, Mima.”

“So what’s his name?”

Dan frowned, wondering what his son and the Shawnee boy were up to.

“His name?” he said. 

‘Tecumseh.”

 

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Tecumseh lifted his head and looked at the Shemanese boy who was now his brother.  His father, Puckeshinwau, and elder brother, Chiksika, had taught him not to judge men by their skin and yet, his father had died at the hands of the big knives.  Still, the ones who had caused the war were not Israel’s people, but the British.  If not for Lord Dunsmore’s greed his father would still be alive, as would the fathers of many of his friends.

Tecumseh lifted his hands to his head and rubbed his temples.  It was all so hard to understand.  He wanted to hate all white men as his mother did and yet, Israel had risked his own life to save him.  Israel was his friend.  His brother.  And he could not hate his brother.

Could he?

“Tecumseh?”

The native boy sighed and then opened his eyes.  “Yes?”

“It’ll be light in a couple of hours.  We need to get you to your village so I can get back home.  Ma’ll be worried about me.  You able to travel?”

His mother would be worried also.  It had not been that long since his father had been killed.  Now, Methoataske would think him dead as well.  He accepted Israel’s hand and leaned on his arm once he had found his feet.  “I am ready.”

“From what you said, we got a few miles to go.”  Israel glanced around at the black night and the sky lit only with stars.  “I sure hope we run into Mingo.  We been travelin’ for some time.  I’d hate to think of makin’ my way back alone— ”

Tecumseh placed his hand over Israel’s mouth.  “Shh!” he commanded.  “Someone is coming.”

Together the two boys dropped into the underbrush beside the beaten path and waited.

Israel stiffened when he saw several native warriors approaching.  “Ain’t them Shawnee?” he asked.

Tecumseh studied them a moment and then nodded.  He did not know the men, but most had markings and clothing that were similar to those of his own people.  Then he pointed.  “But they are not.”  A group of soldiers followed close behind.  They wore red coats and black boots and had muskets and bayonets.

And a prisoner.

“Mingo!”  Israel’s whisper was fierce and almost loud enough to be heard over the shifting grasses and leaves.

“Quiet!”  Tecumseh watched as the tall Cherokee was shoved from behind and made to stumble more quickly after his captors.  A moment later the party entered the trees on the opposite side of the clearing and were gone.  He turned to Israel.  “Mingo?  The one who took my necklace?”

“Yep.  He’s my Pa’s best friend.”

Tecumseh scoffed.  “A Cherokee?”

Israel nodded.  “Mingo’s the one who pulled us out of the river.  Well, him and Yadkin.  You owe him your life.”

Tecumseh grew very still.  From his father he had learned not to judge.  From his elder brother, he had learned both honor and duty.

“We will save him,” he said simply.

Israel beamed.  He held out his hand.  When Tecumseh only stared at it, the Shemanese boy reached out and took it and showed him how to shake.

“Them Redcoats better watch out now!” Israel proclaimed.

Tecumseh turned to stare after the men who had disappeared into the trees.

            “For you, my father,” he whispered so quietly the other boy could not hear, even as his fingers gripped the handle of the knife that hung from his belt.   

And then, like the born leader he was, he led them forward.

 

            - Continued in Chapter Five -